The Olympics remind me how uncoordinated I am. Michael Phelps chides, "Ellen, how can you be afraid to put your face underwater?" The Chinese Fetal Gymnasts sneer, "What do you mean, forward rolls are all you can do?"
However, the U.S. fencing team nods politely at me, because I have disarmed my opponent in a fencing match. Well, "match" is inaccurate, it was in fencing class. And before you picture me in boarding school fencing with my BFF the Viscountess Whatevah, it was the fencing class at the Y.
The Y was able to pick up a fencing class because our community had a discontented, expatriate Prussian fencing instructor. Or, he might have been German, affecting Prussia instead because then he could scream things like, "Ellen! You do not have the blood-lust! Go for the kill!"
The Prussian was frustrated with me because I, in the words of the Chrysler workers I taught later, was "suspended different." I remember one day early on when we argued: "Ellen, just let your arm dangle." "It is dangling." "No, don't twist it like that." "I'm not twisting. I'm dangling." "Here! Give me your arm -- Oh. Well, I suppose that's the best you can do."
My awkward suspension is what enabled me to disarm my opponent. My opponent, a Boy My Age, was that rare combination of cute and smart. He and I assumed the stance:
...and the Prussian barked "Ellen! Put your hand behind your head -- "
Cute Smart Boy snorted. Then he laughed.
"What are laughing at?"
"You look like you're holding a makeup compact by your face - You just look so awkward --"
Just as Cute Boy bent over in hilarity, "En-garde!" the Prussian barked. In a flash I executed the move we'd been practicing, and the foil flew out of Cute Boy's hand and across the room.
He fell on the floor and giggled, "Hey! Not fair! I was laughing. I wasn't ready."
I stared at Cute Boy, hypnotized. He wasn't smart anymore, but he was somehow still cute. Huh. Really cute.
"Ellen," the Prussian sighed, "you do know what the goal is in fencing, don't you?"
Uh ... to reconcile my Dad's respect for athletics with Mom's respect for Trollope novels? To flirt with Cute Boy once a week?
"Oh! Touch!" I said, and poked the Cute Boy with my sword.
The teacher just sighed and shook his head and mourned, I suppose, for Prussia and brown-shirted teenage girls.
In the modern age, if you encounter me on the street today and I am carrying an umbrella, you should know I am primed to execute a bind on your ass at any moment. Just watch it.